If you noticed the book on my desk in the landing page image, you might be a good editor, with an eye for detail!
It's Max Perkins, Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg and it's awesome. Berg tells the story of Scribner editor Perkins, who worked with such talent as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. And boy, did he have great influence on these literary giants and others.
Moreover, he says, he "served as psychoanalyst, lovelorn adviser, marriage counselor, career manager and moneylender." Few editors before him, says Berg, "had done so much work on manuscripts yet he was always faithful to his credo, 'the book belongs to the author.'"
Most good editors are also writers and as such, we always have ideas on how we would write things...better, we sometimes contend, than the author has. But that's the problem with some editors: they want your story to be written the way they would write it.
"An editor does not add to a book," said Perkins. "At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. Don't ever get to feeling important about yourself, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing."
True. We editors are here to serve. We want to help you tell your story the best way you can. Bad editors and critique groups often have an "I just don't like it" attitude, which is surely misplaced. We don't have to like it; I've edited several manuscripts that were not exactly my cup of tea (horror, sci-fi) but they weren't written for me. They were written for fans of horror and sci-fi. I'm just on board to help make them shine.
Perkins knew this better than anyone. "A writer's best work comes entirely from himself...the process is simple. If you have a Mark Twain, don't try to make him into a Shakespeare."
Perkins has said about Hemingway that he "wrote as daringly as he lived," but was "susceptible to over-correcting himself. He once told me that he had written parts of A Farewell to Arms fifty times," Perkins said, adding "Before an author destroys the natural qualities of his writing, that's when an editor has to step in."
Don't rewrite your story so many times that you just can't tell now if it's even the story you started out with or some altered version created by your doubting self. Write the story, then send it to me. I'll let you know what's working and what's not. I'll correct all those pesky little annoyances that get in the way of creative writing. I'll read every word, cross out some, suggest others and sweat it out just like you do. Then, I'll send it back for you to revise. We can discuss it. I can help you with your revisions. I'll think about it while you're thinking about it and together, we'll make it work.
Because just as every writer needs an editor, every editor needs a writer. It's symbiotic.
Pre-K Counts Teacher at Brightside Academy
Patricia O'Brien came highly recommended as a proofreader and editor. She not only provided clear, concise edits and revision on my manuscript, which was a complex and intricate novel, but also provided me with guidelines to improve the quality of the story structure. Patricia O'Brien edited my manuscript in a timely manner with great attention to detail. Going forward, she is the only person who I would even consider employing as an editor for any future manuscripts.
Creative Director at Philly Touch Tours
For Patricia, Editing really IS Everything! Her attention to detail is meticulous
along with a genuine awareness of the content and context of the assignment.
She has a true gift and passion for what she does.
Christopher Biddle, APR
President, Biddle Communications & Public Relations LLC
Patricia is a first-class editor and proof reader. I have used her services for many of my most important client projects. She catches problems and errors that others don't knows how to fix them. She is also an excellent writer
writer of paranormal stories
Patricia O'Brien is just what every writer needs. She is the only editor that I trust to edit my manuscripts. She covers everything from grammar, punctuation, story flow and development. She is a Professional Editor and a professional at making sure that your manuscript is polished and ready to send out to agents and publishers. She has edited three of my books and I couldn’t be happier. Patricia takes pleasure in helping writers get published and, when she is done editing your work, you will find it easier to be published. I would recommend her to all. I will be using Ms. O’Brien for all my editorial needs.
Program Coordinator, Community Builder
Patti was a fantastic addition to our editing team. She joined up at the last minute with very little notice, and had our entire manuscript proofread within two days. She offered individual critique for several of the authors as well, and didn't miss a grammatical mistake anywhere! Patti is a top notch editor and I'm looking forward to our future partnerships.
Quality Assurance Onsite Coordinator at IMS Health/Yoh Systems
Patti is a fine editor who cares about the quality of her client's work. She takes the time to get to know you and to provide clear feedback. She vests herself in the work of her clients and makes the journey towards publication less rocky.
L.A. Strucke, Author
“Chicken Soup for the Soul”
I can’t say enough wonderful things about Patti O’Brien…
Her editing expertise will launch your writing up to the next level: “Worthy of Publication.”
Patti edited my current W.I.P., a middle grade fantasy, and she did a terrific job. Her phrasing and dialogue suggestions were spot on, and her attention to detail kept me from making inconsistency mistakes. Patti also has a great feel for pacing and helped me cut out the parts that were lagging. She was thorough and professional and is very easy to work with. I give her five stars!
Carla Merolla Odell
Writer and former editor with several national magazine titles including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, and Mademoiselle
Patricia O'Brien is a "forest and the trees" writer: seeing the larger picture while delivering details that are whimsical, poignant, and always on point! It's that versatility as a writer that makes her an outstanding editor, able to move seamlessly between tone and topic with laser-like attention to style and voice.
Comments on my A Broad Abroad blog:
Obviously a little behind in my emails but this made catching all the more worthwhile. This introspective story is in one word, beautiful! You have written another classic--Mike Strobel
Jun 7, 2015
Patti, your blog is so descriptive I feel as though I was with you. Maybe it’s because as I read it I hear your voice telling me the story. Either way, I’m glad you had such an exciting long weekend. Dom.
Carla Merolla OdellNov 23, 2014
Holy cannoli! I love this. Of course you know it sure does speak to me. But it’s your honesty that makes this so moving.
Jul 27, 2014glennwalkerbbp
The title of your post alone made me laugh out loud. All I could think of was that old 80s song “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies where all the kid wanted was a Pepsi! Great post!
Editing is a funny business.
As an editor, I am basically telling writers that I can present their own thoughts better than they can, which sounds silly, right? But that’s what I do, and people pay me for it!
It’s not that we can do it better, of course; it’s just that we can do it…better. Let me explain.
You are a writer, a storyteller, a litterateur, a scribe. You have characters to think about, action to perform, verbs to choose, plotlines to plot. You type away, thinking about everything that’s going into your story, agonizing over dialogue, trying to get your hero to the climax before he dies, or is bitten by a rabid wildebeest, or quits the team. It’s a lot to deal with.
So you do the best you can, then you read it over and it sounds pretty good—or not. If not, you dive back in, saving your hero from the depths of the ocean before he drowns, along with your story. Even if you like it as is, you keep rereading, or give it to your mother/best friend/wife/husband/garbage collector to read and when they return it with rave reviews (for what else can they do?), you declare it well and good.
But is it ready for publication?
Probably not, and that’s where an editor comes in.
No matter what you or your good-hearted reviewers say, your story needs work. It just does. Trust me.
Your readers are not professionals and YOU are no judge of your own work. You read what you think you wrote: you know what it’s supposed to say, and so you read it that way, oblivious to the fact that other readers will not know what you’re talking about. You’re the only one in your own head; you’re the only one who truly knows what it all means. The rest of us? Sometimes, we just have to guess.
And that’s not what you want. You want a piece that is clear, consistent, concise and correct. You want the reader to be mesmerized by the story, not distracted by errors, or inconsistencies, or—gawd forbid—out and out plot flaws! “What the hell is going on here?” is not the question you want your readers to ask. “What is going to happen next? I can’t wait,” is what you’re after.
Your editor is your friend. She will find the problems and help you fix them. Because she is not in your head, she will ask the questions future readers will ask; she will point out what is confusing so you can fix it before you send it out to publishers or agents who are way too busy to sift through a problem-riddled manuscript.
Many good manuscripts have been overlooked because overwhelmed agents just can’t get through the first few paragraphs without throwing their hands up in disgust. The story might be great, but they’re never going to find out because they can’t get past the mechanics.
Yes, we’re talking mechanics here, the English class rules that you’ve forgotten. Most adult writers cannot punctuate, that’s a fact. And hardly anyone knows when to use a semi-colon. But I do, and people like me do. We are blessed—or burdened—with the ability to see errors wherever they lurk. We are the folks who call you out if you dare to misspeak, or put a comma where it clearly doesn’t belong. We are trying to help the world with our gifts, but more often than not, we just tick people off. Sigh.
However, we are the people you want to read your ms, your college entrance essay, your letter to the mortgage company, because we are the ones who will make it shine, get you in, promote your cause. We can do it when you can’t because we know how. Good editors are born, not made. Like piano tuners…and Steven Spielberg.
Yes, we are the Spielbergs of the writing world. We know exactly what we want, and how to get it. And it’s not that you don’t: it’s just that it’s really hard to see it clearly when you’re in the movie, or writing it. We’re behind the camera; we see it all because we’re not in it, we’re just watching. Really closely.
Even though we’re not you, we’re working for you, and we want your story to be the best it can be—just like you. We want the plot to work, the characters to be engaging, the dialogue to sparkle. When you’re writing dialogue, you’re thinking about moving the plot along. When we edit dialogue, we’re thinking of that, too, but also we’re making sure that it’s believable, interesting, sensible, and not in contrast to something that was said on page 42. Consistency is hard for the writer, but it’s one of the things editors focus on.
How can we focus on your work better than you can? Because we’re not writing the dialogue, we’re just adjusting it. Ever hang a picture on a wall? It’s hard to get the nail just right, level it, hang it just so. Know what’s easier? Standing across the room saying: “a little to the left.”
Now, you may be thinking, at this point, that I’m wrong. You may think that you have taken everything into account and have written a damn good story, and maybe you have. But I assure you there are mistakes, inconsistencies, punctuation errors and tense problems. Most assuredly, actually, there are tense problems. I see them in every ms, every essay, every everything I read. Tense is a tough one; nearly every writer has trouble with it. But your editor will not. Your editor will fix all that, and make sure that singular subjects have singular verbs; that there are no errant apostrophes in your plurals and “its;” that you don’t say a kid is five years old on page 10 then say he’s three on page 310.
It can be hard work editing someone else’s story, but it’s impossible to edit your own. Every story/magazine article/newspaper column/published book that’s ever been has been professionally edited (don’t get me started on self-published authors who don’t use an editor!). So why should yours be any different? Why shouldn’t your story get the same star treatment as JK Rowling’s do?
You’re a writer? Great. Finished a story? Get an editor.
And pay her well, because you want her to do a really good job. You want her to care about your story as much as you do. You want her “on your team” because she’s good at the one-yard line and will help you get into the end zone (you know, onto a publisher’s desk).
Writers write; editors edit. Focus on your story, and let an editor fix your grammar so you don’t have to worry about stuff like that while you’re creating a zombie apocalypse.
Here’s how it should go: Write. Revise. Get an editor. Talk about everything with her. Revise. Send it back for another edit. Revise. Reread. Send it back for a final proofreading and let the editor just make the changes you’ve missed (you will). Submit.
You shouldn’t skip a step when your goal is publication, just as you shouldn’t skip a step when making a soufflé, because in either case, you could end up with a flat, dead thing. And ain’t nobody got time for that.